Michael Karlesky

A cabinet of wonders. Minus the cabinet. And possibly the wonders.

“Coloring Inside the Lanes”

Over the summer I seem to have much less academic reading to do than during the school year proper. Since I generally use my subway time for reading, this means some free time on the subway now. And, apparently, I like to write short stories while riding the subway if I don’t have pressing reading to do. Given that I’m all over New York City these days conducting customer interviews for Somaware, I have quite a bit of writing time on my hands. And, so, below is another addition to my Origins side project.

Others in the series:

Everything in Lionel’s life was big. He was big. His house was big. His hair was big. His personality was big. His dog was big. He liked to wear big belt buckles. Everything was big.

Lionel drove his big car to work each day at a big company. His company made paint—all kinds of paint. They made paint for the very biggest artists and for the very biggest buildings.

Lionel was the head of diagrams. His company was so big that it had a department just for diagramming, and Lionel was their best diagrammer. He loved making complex ideas clear with smart lines and neat markings, and he loved even more becoming continually better at it. Others diagrammed for paint can labels or signs in the factory or perhaps the occasional presentation. Lionel diagrammed for the most important and highest levels in the company. He saw all the very biggest ideas at his company and diagrammed them expertly.

Seeing all that he did come across his desk, Lionel was never satisfied that his company thought big enough. This bothered him in a big way. In fact, no matter what he worked on, he was never satisfied any of it was really truly big.

Eventually Lionel took up painting. He worked at a paint company, after all. He hoped it would take his mind off his big disappointment at work. Lionel quickly worked through the fundamentals of color and brush strokes and perspective. You will not be surprised to learn that he soon moved on to working with big brushes and big canvases.

Of course, it was not enough for Lionel. Bowls of fruit and portraits just did not do much for him even when they were painted giant sized. A very big banana is only a banana made very big.

Still Lionel kept painting bigger and bigger hoping it would be big enough. Eventually his big paintings outgrew his studio space. So he found some big open warehouse space at his company where he could keep painting. His company was so pleased with his diagramming that not only did they allow him to use the space they even gave him all the paint he could use.

One day Lionel was carrying some big buckets of paint to his new studio space. It so happened that one of the buckets had a small leak in it. Lionel had no idea. He dribbled paint all along the side of the short road that led from one warehouse to the other.

Lionel liked very much to keep things neat and orderly. Spilled paint would not do. Though he was not especially happy in his work, he certainly appreciated the space and paint his company provided him and wanted to do something about this long dribble of paint. However, by the time he found the spill it was long dried. Cleaning it off the road was not an option. So Lionel, thinking big like he did, decided to at least improve the dribble into a proper line. His mind sprang to action and devised a simple contraption to hold paint and roll it all along the side of the road.

Having completed that line on one side of the road, the other side looked rather bare. So Lionel went ahead and painted another line on the opposite side of the road to match it. When that was done Lionel knew that something was missing. Trucks drove both ways down this little road. The new lines suddenly seemed rather commanding but also not quite complete. Lionel realized that now the two directions of traffic needed something to separate them, and so he painted another line right down the middle.

You must understand that at this time cars and trucks were still fairly new inventions. And paved roads were even newer still. Not long before our story takes place, roads were mostly hard packed dirt. Drivers found their way by looking at paper maps and following the occasional signs posted here and there along the roads. When pavement came along, it was laid down and then cars drove on it. It was simple as that. Of course, as roads became busier and more roads crossed other roads and more people were driving to more places, getting around became much trickier and much more complicated.

Having finished painting this little road, Lionel noticed that it intersected several other roads leading to the other warehouses. The intersections caused confusion among the truck drivers. Lionel’s mind immediately began to picture these intersections as diagrams. So he carried his contraption over and began to lay down in paint all the arrows and lines he saw so clearly in his head. He became so engrossed in his work that several trucks very nearly hit him. The blows of their horns barely caught his attention.

Standing in the middle of freshly painted lines and big arrows and big letters, Lionel’s eyes grew big. Every road and intersection everywhere was one big diagram just waiting for him to color in.

Today roads get all their markings applied by big machines very nearly at the same moment the pavement is laid down. But there was a time when a big man who longed to accomplish something big saw all the roads everywhere as one big canvas in need of a great big paint job. And that’s how Lionel gave roads everywhere their first stripes and arrows and lanes. In the end, his big idea was simply to do his job as best as he knew how—to diagram his heart out and ever line well.